On the other end of the phone, Emmylou Holcomb was crying. She is the one-year-old daughter of Drew and Ellie Holcomb, the driving force behind Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors. When we spoke, Drew was at home in Nashville on break from the band’s Good Light Tour. He’s babysitting, because he’s a dad.
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors just finished up the first leg of their tour in Charleston.
“Charleston was great, but always too brief. That’s how it is when you’re touring—you go to these amazing places and you only get to spend eight hours there before you’re on to the next one."
Drew’s first trip to Charleston was with Ellie and some college friends, before he and his now-wife were even dating. He sings about it in an early track from the band: “Weekend in Charleston, Midnight in the sand. / Dancing in a white dress, trembling in my hands.”
“Yes,” Drew told me on his end in Nashville, “That song is from that trip.”
Instead of trying to tame the rock and roll lifestyle, Drew and Ellie Holcomb have chosen to embrace the natural callings of life by simply letting their life together take precedent first. Which is why, even as the band is booking nationally, playing festivals and garnering more radio airplay than ever before, Ellie will be taking on a part-time role with the band to pursue her own solo career. If this was any other band, the decision would bring on warranted speculation of a break-up, but for the harmonious Holcomb family, it just means that Ellie gets to spend more time being a mom.
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In a recent letter to the band’s fans, Drew wrote that he and Ellie are, “deeply dedicated to each other and each other’s creative vision.” The decision was not rooted in selfish ambition or discontent but rather is, “an extension of our deep and abiding love for each other.”
I first met Drew in the basement of a Baptist church in Winston-Salem, seven years ago. Ellie’s college roommate’s father was the pastor of the church, and the band was looking for a venue to play in the foothills of North Carolina. It was the kind of thing a band has to do when first starting out. The feel of the room was not much different from a weekly youth group gathering, the band playing on ground-level, but when the middle school girls at the feet of Ellie Holcomb requested “Hung The Moon,” she sang the lullaby of a song with a genuine smile, the kind you might have when singing your daughter to sleep at night.
That humility has stayed with Drew and Ellie over the years, often being paired with the empathetic storytelling that goes into Drew’s songwriting. He has the ability to observe someone else’s situation and project his thoughts on to it in a way that can be felt universally.
Songs about an addiction-ridden “Jamie” and a “Lonely Anna” from their 2008 album Passenger Seat and the opening track, “Another Man’s Shoes” on their latest album, Good Light, resonate with that compassion.
“That’s intentional,” Drew explained. “I never wanted to be a songwriter who was too inward gazing, telling people that they should hear about my life. I write with the hope that it is relatable for our audience. One of the things that is powerful about music, is that it can help you understand your own perspective, putting into words something that you feel, but may not be able to articulate.”
The battle within, the struggles we have with our personal demons and the hope that dwells within both ourselves and others that combats that darkness, is the message Drew preaches in his songs. We are people born with a good light that we can shine onto others in a world that wants to dampen that goodness.
“When I was thinking about Good Light, I was thinking about my daughter,” Drew said as he calmed the murmurs of Emmylou. “When I was writing, she was still in the womb, and I was thinking, as her dad, someone who is along for the ride in her life, what do I want to tell her in those moments of frustration or failure? It’s that no matter what, just remember that there’s something good in you, and not only that, but we need each other. We weren’t made to walk through the trials and sufferings in life alone.”
This isn’t a one-way exchange, either.
“When you need it, I’ll be there, and when I need it, you’ll be there.”
It is a thought as sincere and reassuring as it is simple.
The Neighbors have hit a pop-culture sweet spot. Their songs have been featured on major television programs (How I Met Your Mother, Parenthood), “Live Forever” from an EP of the same name was featured in an NBA Promotion. Still, they can take the hypothetical trip to the grocery store—not that they would ever be the kind of people who wouldn’t get their own groceries.
“We’re in that space when any notoriety we have is kind of underground and grassroots, though anywhere in the country if we’re out for a while, we’ll get recognized.”
Drew says that the fans he meets are the ones who know him because of the band’s music—those sweet lullabies and sing-a-long anthems filled with good light.
“People don’t know us because we’ve been on TV, its because they’ve fallen into what we do. There’s a healthy sense that when we get recognized, it is someone from our community. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be someone like Kanye. With that kind of notoriety, people don’t recognize you necessarily because of your work. For us, if someone recognizes us it is because they know our music. There’s a cool thing with that.”
I thanked Drew one last time from taking time from his day at home and we say our goodbyes. In the brief moments before the line cuts out, the cries of Emmylou, Drew’s good light, echo in the background. When we hang up, he gets back to being a dad.